Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Cantaloupe Festival

When C and I were on our honeymoon, we just wandered across North Carolina, taking blue highways wherever they led.  Along the way we saw a sign for a cantaloupe festival and for the past three years C has joked about it.  Finally this year I decided we should go see what it was all about.

Turns out that the town of Ridgeway, in Warren County, just a smidge before Norlina and the Virginia border, used to be a major producer of cantaloupes.  The Waldorf-Astoria used to serve Ridgeway cantaloupes in its dining room.  Well, I think Florida may have outpaced us--all the farm fields that I saw were growing tobacco and soybeans--but the Cantaloupe Festival lives on.

Parking in a hayfield was only a dollar, but I guess we didn't have to pay because we got there about an hour before the festival was over.  The first thing we saw was a rock band (well, four guys with electric guitars and a fifth guy singing) on a stage playing Lynyrd Skynyrd songs.  The singer used a music stand to sing from a book of "classic rock" songs.  A sparse crowd under an awning fanned themselves and relaxed in the 95 degree weather.  At the firehouse next door they served Brunswick stew, and the field was full of tables and tents and foodtrucks (mostly shaved ice and funnel cakes).  Some inflated kids games were on one side, and a stoic teenager drove kids around the entire thing in a sort of train.

At the opposite end of the small fair, a bluegrass band played, with a wider variety of instruments and talent.  And next to them was the most wonderful part of the whole fair--the homemade cantaloupe sherbet!  For only $3 it was heaven and a brain freeze.  But such a delicious one!  I would go back next year just for that.

Most of the people in the booths were from local businesses and the like: the roofing company, the Masonic Lodge, the historical society, and that sort of thing.  I snagged a foam cantaloupe slice with Warren County printed on it, and a pen.  Some people were selling handicrafts, including one eager girl who did some interesting woodblock prints.  I had to laugh at one guy, selling photos, because when C asked him where he took a particular photo, the guy said something like, "At the museum."  It was a photo of a photo!  And he was offering it for sale as his own work.  Sigh...

The most interesting table was manned by a wizened old man whose self-proclaimed "hobby" is to study rare and unique apple varieties.  I was just mesmerized by the way he displayed them, beautifully organized on a white board with their names written below each.

After we left the Cantaloupe Festival, C and I wandered around Warren County.  We saw the county seat of Warrenton, full of abandoned old mansions with historical markers and none to keep them up.  Some were so haunted looking.  The courthouse was very beautiful.  The town was so sleepy, but we did run into a local who advised us to drive out toward Inez, where some old plantation houses still exist.  We did so, and saw Cherry Hill, and others, in passing.

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the most bizarre front yard I've ever encountered.  In an otherwise normal little newly developed cookie cutter neighborhood, one house had four or five large rectangles in the front yard, outlined with wood, and in the center of each was a carved (fiberglass?) lion's head, surrounded with plain bark mulch.  They were five identical lion's heads in bark mulch rectangles, and the wood rectangles around them had a small piece of scroll molding at the bottoms.  So weird!  We could only stop and stare.

And that is why we love to explore.  Because you never know what you are going to find down the blue highways, the two-lane little byroads of North Carolina.

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